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Ultimate Guide to Eco Friendly Gifting

29 Apr 2024

Eco-friendly gifting is on the rise these days with more people aware of the environmental issues contributing to climate change. Choosing eco-friendly gifts that support sustainability not only feels good but also does good, by helping to reduce waste and promote more mindful consumption.

With more people choosing gifts made from recycled materials or that support sustainable practices, many businesses are getting on board with these trends, advertising greener products and more ethical practices.

But with greenwashing on the rise, how can you be sure a gift is truly eco-friendly? This guide can help — from the materials to check and the certifications to look for to examples of the most popular eco-friendly gifts, we’ve got you covered.

What is eco gift-giving?

Eco gift-giving involves thoughtfully choosing presents that minimise environmental impact throughout their lifecycle–from the materials used, production processes, and packaging to their disposal.

The term eco-friendly is often used interchangeably with sustainable, though there are some subtle differences. Both reflect a more positive environmental impact, but eco-friendly gifts focus on minimising environmental harm in the present. Whereas, sustainable gifting considers a product’s entire life cycle, its impact on society and the economy, and its contribution to long-term environmental health.

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What makes gifts eco-friendly?

So, how do you actually determine whether the gift you wish to buy is eco-friendly or whether it’s just being marketed as green?

B Corp or Fairtrade Certification

Products that meet the criteria for B Corp or Fairtrade certification are a strong signal that they’re eco-friendly.

B Corp Certified companies are held to rigorous social and environmental standards in order to qualify for this product labelling. It confirms that they’ve prioritised sustainability throughout their operations, from ethical sourcing of materials to energy efficiency during production.

The Fairtrade label is another good indicator that the product was made with a commitment to fair labour and eco-friendly practices. Again, qualifying for this label involves regular audits and independent verification of sustainable and equitable trade relationships.

If you don’t see either of the above certifications, you’ll have a bit more research to do. It will be important to review what the gift and its packaging are made from, how the gift is made, and what its life cycle might be with its new owner.

Materials

The materials used in a gift are one of the key considerations in whether it’s considered eco-friendly. For instance, gifts made with locally sourced materials will have a lower impact on the environment. Less travel means fewer emissions, a major contributor to greenhouse gases.

Another way to spot an eco-friendly gift is to see if it’s made from upcycled or recycled materials. Natural materials like bamboo, organic cotton, or cork are also considered eco-friendly, since they involve much less processing than synthetic options. Again, this means lower emissions and likely fewer harmful chemicals released into the environment.

But just because these materials are used in a gift doesn’t automatically mean it is eco-friendly. You also have to consider whether the materials are ethically sourced. Natural ingredients harvested through unsustainable practices negate the environmental benefits.

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Production

How a gift is produced also determines its eco-friendliness. For example, handmade gifts may have a lower environmental footprint than mass-produced items that rely heavily on machinery and energy.

That said, machine-made gifts can also be eco-friendly choices. You just have to seek manufacturers who prioritise sustainability in their production practices, such as:

  • Using renewable energy sources
  • Implementing water conservation techniques
  • Ensuring ethical sourcing of materials

Durability and lifespan

Another aspect to consider when looking for eco-friendly gifts is their lifespan. A gift that’s built to last will have a longer, more useful life with its owner before ending up in a landfill. Without the need for frequent replacements, you’re reducing overall resource consumption and preventing waste.

Also, think about its second-life potential. Can the gift be repaired if broken to extend its lifespan? Is it made from recyclable materials that can be reintroduced into the production cycle at the end of its life? Gifts with these qualities can also minimise the environmental footprint.

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Packaging

Packaging is also important to consider in determining whether a gift is eco-friendly. Is the gift packaged sustainably without a lot of extra plastic and bubble wrap?

Eco-friendly packaging ideally includes:

  • Compostable materials, such as plant-based cellulose or PLA (polylactic acid)
  • Recyclable materials, such as ​​cardboard and plastics like PET (often used in clear containers) or HDPE (often used in rigid plastic containers)

Bonus points if these materials are used minimally. Fewer frills in the packaging means less material used throughout the supply chain and less waste to dispose of.

Shipping

Finally, consider the environmental impact of getting your gift to your recipient. Local brick-and-mortar stores often have shorter shipping distances than online retailers, which is better for the planet.

But if shopping online is your only choice, find eco-friendly retailers or couriers that:

  • Promote carbon-neutral shipping
  • Consolidate orders and optimise routes
  • Are transitioning/have transitioned to sustainable vehicles

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Best eco-friendly gift ideas

Charitable donations

Making a charitable donation in someone’s honour is a beautiful way to celebrate special occasions sustainably. Donations eliminate the need for physical gifts, reducing waste from production, packaging, and transportation. It’s a lighter footprint for the planet and a lighter load for your loved one (no more “What do I do with this?”).

Your thoughtful donation can also support organisations like ours working hard to protect our planet and create a sustainable future for all. Our Unwrapped sustainable gift cards support life-changing sustainable causes worldwide.

Experiences

Experiences are fantastic eco-friendly alternatives to traditional material gifts. Instead of something that collects dust, you’re giving the chance to create unforgettable moments together. Whether it’s tickets to a local concert, a hands-on cooking class, or a weekend exploring a national park, these experiences become cherished memories that last a lifetime.

Secondhand gifts

For some recipients, a second hand gift can be a very thoughtful and eco-friendly present. Shopping at an op shop or even re-gifting items can meaningfully extend an item’s life, keeping it from ending up in the landfill while it still has usefulness.

Re-gifting items can also be a surprisingly personal gesture. For example, giving a favourite book from your childhood to a young reader may be a present they’ll keep forever.

DIY gifts

A DIY, personalised gift is another win-win for the planet and your giftee. Whip up a batch of their favourite cookies or knit a cosy wool scarf. Feeling crafty? Create a terrarium in a recycled glass jar or gift a houseplant that will add life to their space.

These thoughtful presents show you put extra love (and maybe a little creativity) into making them something special. And because they’re DIY, you can be confident you’re not adding to the ever-growing mountain of waste if you choose eco-friendly materials.

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Locally produced items

Opting for locally produced items is another fantastic, eco-friendly choice. You can:

  • Gift a food basket filled with fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables from a local farmer’s market
  • Support small businesses, local artists and craftspeople by choosing unique handmade items like jewellery, pottery, or home decor pieces
  • Look for galleries showcasing local talent or visit artist studios for one-of-a-kind finds

More Sustainable Gifts at Oxfam Unwrapped

Looking for more gifts that go beyond the ordinary while caring for the planet? We have a curated selection of sustainable charity gift options that support organisations pushing for climate justice and environmental protection.

Your contribution will directly support a cause your loved one cares about while contributing to a healthier world for generations to come.

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